Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Complete Implications of Optical Illusions





There is a site out there that has become a bit of a meme. It is simply an age old optical illusion, albeit done in a way that really dazzles more than earlier versions have. (In fact, there are a couple more on the site that are very good: a video of the same shades of grey effect and one that has you convinced that one shade of color is both blue and green. See here.)


The creator of the site likes to use this effect as an illustration of the untrustworthiness of our perspective (a very postmodern approach to reality) but also to argue in favor of a purely scientific approach to seeing the world. (That is a modern stance.)

“They show us in no uncertain terms that what we see is not what we get. It’s extremely easy to fool our eyes and brain, and we should never simply trust that what we see, what we think is going on, is a fair and accurate representation of reality. This is why we have science. Richard Feynman called it (with characteristic simplistic brilliance) ‘a way of not fooling ourselves’.”

He has a point. He has a good point. Faith, as truly Biblical Christians understand it, is never about pure mysticism, nor does it argue for adopting the views of a select, religious, leadership. In fact the Bible argues against both extremes.


Prophets claiming to have a “truth from God” are held to an extremely high standard. Any prophet who has a single false word exposed was to be labeled a false voice, his entire volume of prophesies ruled false, and ultimately the prophet was killed.

(Modern “prophets” who claim their gift encompass the ability to deliver new messages from God never demand that standard of review. In fact, they are usually either terribly misguided or terrible charlatans.)

Jesus took care of the other extreme, religious legalists, in saving His most scathing condemnations for their ilk. God does not want people who trust in religious leaders nor false impressions of reality. That is why we believe He supplied us with a standard—a Word. Even if we do not fully understand everything in it, we have something by which we can gauge our impressions of reality. God does not want people seeing Jesus on burnt tortillas. That is no miracle, it is simply an optical illusion.

At the same time, Faith is not something that can be proven. If it were it would no longer be faith. Seeing is NOT believing. Biblically speaking, faith is seeing. The key here is understanding that God does not desire blind faith either. Otherwise He wouldn’t have provided a standard by which people of faith could measure their understanding of reality. Biblical faith is not blind faith in our or anyone else’s understanding of Scripture, it is a growing faith that develops as our perspective of reality grows and our understanding of Scripture matures.

Christians in the Modern era failed to embrace the “un-provability” of faith completely. They constantly tried to “prove” the realities of God and faith through logic, rational arguments, apologetics and even science. What they really achieved, if anything, was to expose the weaknesses of a material worldview. They did not prove the existence of God to anyone, because that has to be believed to be seen.

There is a weakness in the material worldview. It is exposed in the very statement quoted above. Scientism is just as much a religion accepted by faith as any other. It has limitations like any other means of viewing, measuring and understanding reality. Why is the scientific method ultimately any better than seeing? It is, after all, simply a more precise way of seeing. It still has its limitations.

Scientism itself—the blind faith approach to finding all answers in life through science and the blind faith that science has the ability to provide all those answers—is nothing more or less than another religion. Simply take the Theory of Evolution and its foundational place in current scientific understanding as an example.

The belief that infinitesimal, yet positive steps forward in the form of mutations results in the vast diversity of life on earth is a belief that stagers logic and observation. Mutations, generally speaking, are never positive and such a development proceeding in an orderly fashion defies one of the most fundamental laws of physics. (Never mind the fact that most of such proposed developments occur far too slowly for them to be usefully maintained to a point where they serve any purpose.)

On the other hand, the adjustment in evolutionary theory towards multiple vast explosions of evolution with no discernable, natural cause once again lays bare a religious type of faith that has no place in science.

It does have the makings of truly dogmatic religion, however.

So, the reality of such optical illusions is a powerful reminder that we in our limited capacity as humans cannot know or understand the complexities of reality as well as we might think we can; and we all—scientists included—need to keep that in mind.

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